Lot 184
  • 184

GERRIT THOMAS RIETVELD | An Early Zig-Zag Chair from the Collection of the Artist

25,000 - 35,000 USD
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  • Gerrit Thomas Rietveld
  • An Early Zig-Zag Chair from the Collection of the Artist
  • oak
  • 29 x 14 7/8  x 16 1/4  in. (73.7 x 37.8 x 41.3 cm)
  • circa 1934-1936


Collection of the artist
Estate of Gerrit Thomas Rietveld
Christie's Amsterdam, May 21, 1987, lot 407
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Clement Meadmore, The Modern Chair: Classics in Production, New York, 1975, pp. 76-79
Daniele Baroni, The Furniture of Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, New York, 1977, pp. 132, 136-137 and 155
Gerrit Rietveld: A Centary Exhibition, Craftsman and Visionary, exh. cat., Barry Friedman Ltd., New York, 1988, p. 51
Martin Eidelberg, ed., Design 1935-1965: What Modern Was, Montreal, 1991, p. 316
Marijke Küper and Ida van Zijl, Gerrit Th. Rietveld, Utrecht, 1992, pp. 147, 179, 202 and 246
Peter Vöge, The Complete Rietveld Furniture, Rotterdam, 1993, pp. 83, 109 and 149
Galerie Ulrich Friedler, Modern Equipment, Cologne, 2004, p. 45
Ida van Zijl, Gerrit Rietveld, London, 2010, pp. 103, 132, 139 and 143


Overall very good condition. The present chair was retained by Gerrit Rietveld for his personal collection and remained in the Rietveld family until the 1980s. The wood surfaces throughout with scattered surface scratches, abrasions, wear, discolorations, surface soiling and traces of paint throughout consistent with age and use, visible in the catalogue illustration. The edges with some occasional small losses and softening to the edges and corners. The top edge of the back rest with a small loss on the reverse measuring approximately 1 x 1/2 inch. The front edge of the seat with a small loss measuring approximately 1/2 x 1/2 inch. The back edge of the leg where the leg joins to foot with another small loss measuring approximately 3/4 x 1 inch which appears to be the loss of a burl in the wood. The seat with a shallow dent measuring approximately 2 inches long near the join between the seat and backrest. The wood with some seam separations, most prominently to the proper right side of the foot, visible in the catalogue illustration, which is inherent in the natural aging of the material. As is typical of some early works by Rietveld, the front edge of the foot has been applied with a metal strap to prevent warping to the wood. Five screws (two up through the bottom of the seat and three through the backrest into the seat) were added either by Gerrit Rietveld or Gerard van de Groenekan to stabilize the join between the backrest and the seat where a few of the dovetails broke or became weakened. This modification is indicative of the chair's early construction. The wedge between the leg and foot appears to have been stabilized with glue at some point in the history of the piece. The back of the leg with some minor water damage concentrated to the bottom portion. An exemplary and early work by the artist with excellent historic provenance.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The Evolution of the Zig-Zag Chair

The three types of Zig-Zag chairs offered here show the evolution of the form from the early 1930s to the early 1950s.  In his first attempts to make a Zig-Zag chair, Rietveld used industrial materials such as metal, fiber and plywood to underscore the radical newness of his invention.  As a skilled cabinet maker he worked from intuition rather than drawings, occasionally making rough sketches on scraps of paper. This changed when Metz & Co. started producing Rietveld’s furniture designs and required detailed drawings for the firm’s workshop.  The works selected by Metz & Co. were given a reference number preceded by an “R,” starting with Rietveld’s Beugel chair “R1” in the fall of 1931.

In 1933, Rietveld presented a cantilever zigzag chair in tubular steel at Metz & Co., which was succeeded by his wooden version, which met the requirements of the firm, as it was numbered “R 18” on a detailed design drawing, showing a construction with multiple dovetail joints between the seat and the backrest and solid wedges secured with brass nuts and bolts.  On the drawing, Rietveld noted that the chair was to be made out of pine cupboard planks made by the Dutch Bruynzeel company. But in contrast to the early Metz number on the drawing, it would not be until 1937 that the first zigzag chair matching this design was shown at Metz & Co.

The earliest examples of the wooden Zig-Zag chair were not made by Metz & Co. but by Gerard van de Groenekan, under Rietveld’s supervision, somewhere between 1934 and 1936.  During this period, Rietveld worked on several commissions which are known to have included Zig-Zags, such as the Mees, Hillebrand, Harrenstein, Birza and Wilma commissions. The Birza pair of chairs (lots 182 and 183) is very similar to the R18 type, although they were made of pine floor boards instead of Bruynzeel planks.  The same goes for the unpainted chair (lot 184), except for the bolts reinforcing the connection between the seat and backrest and the metal strip securing the warping panel of the floor board, both of which must be later additions. The provenance of this chair is interesting, since Rietveld placed a set of similar Zig-Zags in his own Vreeburg apartment right after its completion in 1936.

In the years following the chair’s successful introduction at Metz & Co., Rietveld designed a variety of Zig-Zags: high chairs and easy chairs with armrests as well as versions with a pierced backrest, all of which were presented in 1940.  Since these larger and lower models required a firm construction, Rietveld experimented with various types of hardwood, such as mahogany, limba and oak, throughout the 1940s. The Zig-Zag chair with pierced backrest offered here (lot 185) is in elm, a strong yet affordable type of wood that eventually would become the standard for Zig-Zags. A rare feature in this particular chair is the use of aluminum rivets instead of the customary brass bolts. Of this type only a few examples are known, such as the example in the Stedelijk Museum (acquired 1952 from Metz & Co.) and another in a Dutch private collection (executed ca. 1951 by Van de Groenekan) and production was probably limited to the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The Zig-Zag chair was not just one of Rietveld’s most iconic and widespread furniture designs, it was a design that Rietveld himself was quite fond of.  He returned to it many times to refine the form and placed it in many of his interior and architectural plans from the mid-1930s until well after the Second World War.  Its timelessness is owed to its subtle complexity and elegant proportions, which are a testament to Rietveld’s design genius.